Man gets 27 years for woods murder

The mother of an economics graduate has said she can never forgive her daughter's killer for destroying the lives of so many when he battered the 25-year-old to death in woodland near where she worked.

Penny (Pan) Ning was not in court as the judge sentenced David Simmonds to serve a minimum term of 27 years and 213 days for the murder of Jia Ashton, whose body was discovered in Sleetmoor Woods, near Somercotes in Derbyshire on March 13, three days after she was last seen leaving her job at chocolate-maker Thorntons.

In a letter to the judge at Nottingham Crown Court, Ms Ning apologised for not being at the hearing but said the pain was just "too great".

She said her life and that of her daughter's husband Matthew Ashton has been destroyed by David Simmonds.

"He killed my hopes, my dreams and my future. All of my joy in life died with my darling daughter," she said.

She would never be able to forgive Simmonds as she could not understand why he did "this terrible thing".

"Because I cannot understand, I cannot forget," she said.

"I miss my daughter very much and my hearts breaks for her over and over again, even as I write this. No mother, no husband and no family should suffer the pain we have been subjected to over the past terrible six months."

Ms Ning said she had returned to her homeland of China to be closer to friends and family and the place where Jia grew up and her dreams "took shape".

She said she had worked "day and night" to pay for her only daughter's schooling and extra tuition and that she had been rewarded with Jia's love, devotion, intelligence and dedication to her studies.

She described the day that Jia learned she was going to study at Warwick University.

"She danced around the room with joy. How could I have known I was sending her to the place where she would meet such a cruel death?"

The judge spoke of Mrs Ashton's "golden future" when sentencing Simmonds, of Derby Road, Heanor, Derbyshire.

His Honour Judge Michael Stokes said: "She achieved a good job where she was very liked and respected.

"There was to be a golden future until you came along and destroyed it, and you destroyed that future and that happiness in a most cruel and wicked manner."

He said that had Simmonds only wanted to rob Mrs Ashton it would have been a simple matter to relieve her of the small amount she had, given the difference in weight between him and his victim.

Instead the "severity" of the attack showed Simmonds must have had "most sinister thoughts" in his mind, Mr Stokes said.

He said that Mrs Ashton's final moments must have been spent in "abject terror".

Jia's body was found by a mountain rescue search dog on March 13.

The police investigation into her death continued for eight weeks until Simmonds was arrested on May 5.

Detectives said Simmonds subjected her to a sustained violent and brutal attack in which her heart was effectively ruptured by his weight on top of her chest.

Simmonds originally pleaded not guilty to Mrs Ashton's murder but changed his plea at Nottingham Crown Court last week.

At 6ft 2in and 19 stone, Simmonds was nearly three times the weight of Mrs Ashton, who stood at a petite 4ft 11in, weighed six and a half stone, and wore a size two shoe.

"Can you imagine a more unequal contest?" the judge remarked.

He said if Simmonds had intended to only rob Jia it would have been like "taking sweets from a child".

But we are never going to know what was precisely in his mind, he said.

The court heard that a package containing a number of letters and items of jewellery including a "Dad" ring was recovered from his room at the Spice Inn at Heanor following his arrest.

One of the letters was addressed to a friend, asking him to deliver a further letter to his family.

"I'm writing this because you are people I most care about and there's a 99.9 per cent chance ill never C U again, he wrote.

"I'm sorry I've f***** my life up and most of all I'm sorry I've now ruined (sic) you thought good of me before this letter never again will you.

"I nether (sic) meant to do it I've regretted it since the second it happened and now I'm going to pay for my actions.

"It's not decided how I'm going to pay but I'm trying to do it in a way which won't cause anymore pain.

"I know I'm never going to C any of you again...I don't know if you'll ever read this but I'm asking a friend to deliver it tomorrow because I f****** h8 myself at the minute and I think you deserve to know that I'm so sorry."

As the extracts from the letter were read out, Simmonds, dressed in a cream shirt and grey trousers, put his head in his hands.

In interviews with police following his arrest, Simmonds had insisted the letters had been written months earlier and for a wholly unconnected reason, the court heard.

Mr Stokes said he did not accept the motive behind the attack was just robbery but that he could not be sure that Simmonds actually sexually attacked Jia in any way.

But Simmonds was a habitual liar from which no credence could be taken from anything he said, he added.

Speaking after the sentencing Judith Walker, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East Midlands, echoed the sentiments of the judge and Mrs Ashton's mother.

Outside court, she said: "Today David Simmonds has been sentenced for the utterly needless killing of a bright, popular young woman with a promising future ahead of her.

"It was the prosecution's case that Simmonds subjected Jia to a brutal, sustained attack intending to kill her. Had he intended anything less he could easily have overpowered her. Having killed her, he set about concealing her body.

"The time and care he took in doing so and in disposing of her possessions indicate that this was a deliberate attempt to avoid detection and was not the result of confusion or disorientation.

"The CPS and the police pieced together the evidence to build a compelling case against him. This included his fingerprints on Jia's possessions in the woods, her blood on footwear found at his home, his inconsistent accounts and lies to the police and a letter to his family saying he was probably never going to see them again."

"Despite the strength of the evidence against him Simmonds continued to deny the offence, only pleading guilty a week ago.

"He is now facing the consequences of his appalling crime.

"The sentence handed down today marks the end of what has been an agonising process for Jia's family and friends and I hope this will bring some closure and help them to come to terms with their terrible loss."

Detective Superintendent Terry Branson, senior investigating officer, said the sentence reflected the "gravity" of the crime.

He said: "While the investigation was a difficult inquiry, the judicial process has been relatively simple and swift due to the guilty plea.

"My thoughts remain with Jia's family and I am comforted in the knowledge that her killer has received a life sentence."